Friday, January 28, 2011

Old things: The Lonesome Call of the Crowded West

I was listening to the Meat Puppets cover of 'Good Golly Miss Molly' the other day, which to me is one of the great covers of all time. I'll post a decent version of it one day. The first time I ever heard it was at my first MPs show, at the Brewery in Raleigh in 1986. Flat Duo Jets was the opener. Based on my having played the grooves off of Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun, I told a bunch of buddies to come see this weird jazz trio playing desert math rock (although I'm sure I didn't call it math rock). Any of you who saw them in their heyday knows that that is not what we got. It was a hundred mile per hour blast of joyous chaos, and ever since then I've thought of Curt Kirkwood as one of the truly unsung guitar players of his or any generation. They played inspired covers, like Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away' at 78 rpm, and the aforementioned Little Richard gem that made you feel like you were Michael Jackson on the set of a Pepsi commercial.

All the rock and roll stations that summer were playing "In Your Eyes" and "Back in the High Life", which caused me to retreat to the Meat Puppets. Although not nearly as often as in the past, I still get that need for westernness, or the arid landscape that my brain projects when I listen to their old music. So this morning I was thinking about all that crap when I started trying to think of the other music that does that for me. It's not so much music about wide open spaces as it is music about empty spaces, and of course, the allegorical emptiness that we insist on connecting to it. Sort of like "Pulp Fiction" if it had been directed by Sergio Leone.

So that's my best effort at trying to explain the thought process that brought me to post these two tunes -- different sounds and different times, but both doing a similar thing for me.

I don't think it's an overstatement to suggest that Wall of Voodoo, on their masterpiece 'Call of the West', "got" their place and the characters in it the way that Steinbeck "got" Salinas, California. This is a good live version of the last (title) song, but you can really only get its full impact when it follows the other songs, especially desperate songs like "Factory" and "Lost Weekend".

I can't think of another album that would catch that mood again until Modest Mouse released 'The Lonesome Crowded West' in 1997. Despite the title, it was not as overtly "western" in its themes, but for some reason (maybe just the title) it puts me in the same place. Here's my favorite Modest Mouse song.

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